Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bible Humor and Translation Issues

If someone ever asks you if the name "Ed" is a biblical name, the answer is yes. In Josh 22:34, the KJV reads, And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God. Most modern readers of English probably find a touch of humor in that verse, thinking about an altar named Ed. Now the KJV does give the marginal reading "witness." The difference between "Ed" and "witness" is that the former is a transliteration of the Hebrew word that means "witness," while the latter is simply a translation. Most modern versions have gone with the latter.

But this is a real problem for translators: what to do with names. Should the name be translated, or should it be transliterated? That sounds like it should be an easy question to answer, but it is not. Biblical names often have meaning that are significant to the context. So it might seem to the reader that the thing for the translators to do is to simply translate the name. But if that is done, the fact that the word is a name may then be lost. When faced with such a decision, whether to translate or to transliterate, translations usually do the following. They put one version of the name in the text (for example the KJV putting Ed in the text of Josh 22:34) and then put the other version of the name (in this case "witness") in the margin. But it seems that most translations take this issue on a case-by-case basis.

A great sample text here is Is 62:4, because the verse seems to have four names in it. The ASV translates the first two, and transliterates the last two, as does the NIV. The ESV translates all four as does the NLT and the NRSV.

In any case, when it comes to naming children, remember that Ed is a biblical name.

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